At the May SVP Portland Board of Directors’ meeting, staff presented an opportunity to support the newly-formed Washington County Preschool for All effort. Given our early, deep, and long-time work to help make Preschool for All a reality in Multnomah County, we were asked to join the Washington County effort. Just as in Multnomah County, all young children in Washington County deserve positive early learning experiences that help them develop cognitive and social-emotional skills and prepare them for kindergarten.
The Board’s reaction was passionate and unanimous. Director Larry Fox responded, “I don’t know why we wouldn’t do this. There are only three examples in our 20 years of going beyond scaling to replication. Here’s a chance to do that – and that’s a phenomenal achievement in philanthropy. I think it’d be crazy if we just drew a line around Multnomah County.”
Too many children in Washington County – especially children living in poverty, children of color, children whose home language is not English, and children with disabilities – experience barriers when accessing early learning opportunities. Of the 23,091 three- and four-year-old children in the county, 20,875 lack access to affordable preschool*. This places a heavy burden on working families who must navigate the high cost of preschool and child care.
Director Charlie Gilkey built upon Larry’s thought, “The boundary between Multnomah County and Washington County is arbitrary. And kids frequently go back and forth between the two. From a strategic point of view, the exit strategy from our Access to Preschool goal is going to require a broad state initiative to take it over and run with it. So, if we can do it in Multnomah and Washington counties, I think it starts to snowball and creates an inevitability to what we’re trying to achieve.”
Many of our Community Partners don’t see that boundary as a real component to their work either. The Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), for instance, is looking to launch a preschool in Washington County because that’s where they saw a need, and they found a partner for a facility. And the Center for African Immigrants and Refugee Organization (CAIRO) is already partnering with Beaverton and Hillsboro school districts.
Board Chair Kerry McClenahan reminded everyone, “We always said at the beginning of our Access to Preschool efforts that we hoped we would prove a model that could be replicated throughout the state. And we have a lot of Partners in Washington County who have been asking for us to expand our efforts. I too cannot see any reason we wouldn’t do this.”
To address the challenges of the under-served preschool population, Northwest Regional Education Service District, along with Washington County’s seven school districts and the Washington County Early Learning Hub, is building a coalition of racially-diverse families, preschool providers, community-based organizations, community advocates, and business leaders to recommend strategies and policies to expand preschool access in Washington County. The coalition is specifically focused on developing policies that:
- Support strong preschool programs
- Address workforce and infrastructure issues
- Identify a sustainable funding source to make preschool free and accessible to all families
The goal is to build a program that is informed by best-practice research and community wisdom while honoring family preferences. The team seeks to leverage learnings and best practices from Multnomah County’s Preschool for All effort, with the goal of building to a successful ballot measure for November, 2022.
With the SVP Board’s unanimous vote to expand our Access to Preschool goal to include Washington County, we have begun focusing resources toward the effort. Partners with specific areas of expertise will serve on the Task Force and/or administration/infrastructure work groups, as well as help with fundraising efforts. Down the road, we are prepared to engage Partners as champions and advocates for the 2022 campaign, as we did (with great success!) in Multnomah County. Additionally, the Portfolio Management Team approved an initial investment of $5,000 toward the first-phase budget.
At the close of Board discussion, Director Bob Tate shared his view, “I think it’s a natural opportunity to scale beyond our historical boundaries, and we have knowledge and capability to contribute meaningfully. I think it’s a wonderful chance to advance past learnings into a new area and develop potential new partnerships, while building up our reputation and our credibility more broadly. I wouldn’t turn it down for the life of me.”
Are you interested in getting involved? Do you have friends or colleagues in Washington County who might be interested in helping make Preschool for All a reality for our kids? If so, please reach out to Matt Little, Director of Investor Partnerships.
*Data was provided to ELD as part of their preschool development grant and then provided to Hubs as part of the early care and education sector planning in 2019.